Optimizing Library Services — The Complexity, Benefits, and Obstacles of Open Access (OA): How Librarians Are Becoming Leaders of the OA Movement

by | Apr 16, 2021 | 0 comments


By Ms. Brittany Haynes  (Sales and Marketing Coordinator, IGI Global) 

Column Editors:  Ms. Caroline Campbell  (Assistant Director of Marketing and Sales, IGI Global) 

and Mr. Nick Newcomer  (Senior Director of Marketing and Sales, IGI Global) 

Against the Grain Vol. 33 No. 1

Recently, OA has been at the forefront of news headlines.  This includes Elsevier converting 160 of their journals to OA, IGI Global offering 32 full Gold OA journals, Springer Nature announcing a new OA pilot program, and Wiley acquiring leading OA publisher, Hindawi (Durrani, 2021; IGI Global, 2021; Seltzer, 2020; Business Wire, 2021).  These publishers are increasing their OA offerings as there has been a continuous interest and an unprecedented demand for “open” content, based on mandates like Plan S (CoAlition S).  Placing even more pressure on this demand is the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased budgetary restrictions and constraints for institutions and their libraries.  It has also increased the demand for digital resources in online-only and hybrid learning and research environments. 

“Access to digital resources, especially OA journal content, is critical during times such as these when researchers and institutions all over the world are connecting remotely,” stated Dr. Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A, President and CEO of IGI Global.  “Now, more than ever, there is a need for the timeliest and highest quality research.” 

Benefits and Hesitations in the OA Movement

The benefits of OA content appear to be immense, as it increases the accessibility of research and makes it immediately available to the entire scientific research community.  For libraries, this can serve as a way to freely acquire needed research for their institution, and for researchers, it can increase the citation impact and sharing of their research, as it removes copyright barriers. 

However, while the OA movement is more openly accepted in Europe and is continuing to make ground in the U.S., there are concerns that persist about OA.  In the absence of subscription revenue, many larger publishers charge high APC fees to turn a profit.  These publishers are not being transparent about the costs to produce the work.  This can restrict the ability of and discourage researchers from submitting under OA, which consequently reduces the amount of overall OA content for the entire academic community.  Additionally, as researchers are turning their attention more to publishers that are solely focused on OA, predatory OA publishers are able to prey on researchers, with a focus on the “pay-to-publish” model and profitability.  They do not ensure the dissemination of quality, vetted research content, as predatory publishers typically charge the APC without requiring the content to undergo a rigorous peer review process (Tenant, et al. 2016). 

Beyond these concerns that are largely faced by researchers, libraries are also confronted with challenges.  Part of the hesitation with OA is understanding the intricate mechanisms and terminology that surround “Open Science,” “Open Data,” “Open Access,” “Open Research,” and other related terms that feature a lack of standardization of labeling content and access.  This confusion is only exacerbated for librarians, as they must utilize multiple systems to integrate OA content in their library, and there is a lack of consistency with OA metadata, information, and communication.  Additionally, there are concerns over the quality of OA research (due to predatory publishing) and publishers “double-dipping” through requesting high article processing charges (APCs) while charging institutional libraries for OA content.  Some librarians even fear the OA movement could minimize their role with the ease of availability of OA research, causing a lower demand for library services such as acquiring and organizing content as well as providing assistance with their patrons’ research needs. 

Thus, implementing OA resources into their discovery services and platforms continues to be a challenge for libraries.  For instance, highly used tools for making OA content discoverable are only operable at the title level and lack standardization.  This makes it difficult to notate OA versus traditional articles in hybrid OA resources.  The previously mentioned need for metadata cleanup was also reported to be one of the major implementation issues librarians face with OA, especially when labelling OA content as “free” or “OA” or “Public Access” and a streamlined system of communicating in the OA “supply chain” is a top need for librarians (Bullock, et al. 2015).  A higher level of openness and communication between publishers and librarians, as well as a larger conversation across the board for publishers about standardizing OA metadata and labels, would assist with clearing up the confusion that many libraries are left to sift through. 

Regarding the challenge that OA may pose to librarian roles, there are other opportunities that arise for librarians with the expansion of OA.  At a Charleston Conference, Ms. Julia Gelfand, from California State University, Irvine, USA, stated that even with the surge in OA content, librarians will maintain their key role in developing and maintaining repositories to increase the discoverability of OA content for their patrons.  This is especially true as new technologies continue to emerge and patrons require the assistance of their librarians to navigate repositories and discovery systems for OA content.  Ms. Gelfand also mentioned this can continue to create new opportunities and positions for librarians in the wake of OA as publishing consultants, scholarly communications librarians, and more (IGI Global, 2018). 

Librarians also serve a key role as they can determine the credibility of OA content by serving as a line of defense when perusing this content, including it in their institution’s discovery services, and ensuring their patrons have access to quality content.  They can also help mitigate predatory publishing practices, as when institutions acquire content and share it with their patrons, they are endorsing that it is coming from a quality publisher. 

Although these challenges arise for libraries and their patrons, it is important to note libraries play one of the most important roles in the OA movement.  They are crucial in strengthening collaboration and communication between libraries and publishers to work in diminishing these obstacles (i.e., confusion over APCs, the quality of OA content, standardization in metadata, etc.) for implementation and utilization and ensure the OA movement can be fully embraced.  

With this need for publisher-librarian collaboration to create a more sustainable OA movement, “Read and Publish” and “Publish and Read” models have developed, with libraries becoming a driving force behind funding OA, alongside the researchers and publishing entities.1

Sustainable OA (“Read and Publish” and
“Publish and Read”) Models 

 “Read and Publish” and “Publish and Read” models have been around for several years;  however, now is the time where this type of model is being re-highlighted due to COVID-19.  Libraries are pulling out of big deals, renegotiating with larger publishers as they face inevitable budgetary constraints, and working to integrate “read and publish” models into their contracts.  This is to ensure that they are able to maximize their budget and publishers are not double-dipping (where publishers receive payment from the APCs but then also garner payment from the same institutions the APCs come from for the content). 

Although COVID-19 has increased the need for OA content and enabled librarians to have a platform to renegotiate, it is also decreasing OA funding, as institutions’, departments’, and libraries’ budgets continue to be hit hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic.  With this, from a publisher’s perspective, we are also seeing an insurgence of small and medium-sized publishers offering more flexible read and publish models, which offset the costs of APCs for institutions that invest in content.  Some examples of publishers that offer APC waivers include:

Springer Nature in conjunction with Projekt DEAL, which offers a 20% APC discount for eligible authors in Springer Nature OA journals

IGI Global, which provides 100% OA APC waivers in IGI Global hybrid and full Gold OA journals when an institution invests in any of InfoSci-Databases (e-book and e-journal collections) as well as 50-100% OA APC waivers automatically for low- and middle-income countries

MDPI, which waives anywhere from 15%-100% of its APCs, depending on the subject area and length of establishment of a journal. 

With read and publish, institutions are able to see where the costs of their investment offset OA APCs and have flexible acquisitions models, indicating medium-sized publishers are offering more flexible and attractive offers to maximize budgets and benefits, as opposed to some of the big deals associated with larger publishers.  Libraries are seeing this as a great value proposition and are actively seeking to add OA waivers to increase the value of their deals when acquiring collections.  This looks to publishers to provide more flexible offers to continue the OA movement, but this can also be used as a negotiation tool for larger publishers to make true change in how they propel the OA movement forward and how libraries are able to acquire this content.  Popular pilot models for flexible and sustainable OA offerings being implemented by publishers so far include: 

• Up to 100% OA APC waivers 

• Discounts on APCs when individuals at an institution publish OA content

• Waiving OA APCs for low- or middle- income countries completely

• Support of larger funding bodies to cover APC costs

• And more.

Through these sustainable models, libraries and publishers can collaborate to relieve the burden of initiating publishing OA research content.  Yet another model that can ease the collective burden of a transition to OA is the Subscribe to Open model, utilized by publishers such as Annual Reviews, Berghahn Journals, EDP Sciences (Hinchliffe, 2020), and IGI Global (to name a few), which came about by rethinking Read and Publish and Publish and Read models.  

Subscribe to Open Models

Subscribe to Open models serve as a way for librarians to lead the charge in OA, by assisting the movement as well as publishers during a transition period.  Annual Reviews’ pilot model, for example, utilizes “existing library subscription payments for gated access journals to be leveraged and then retained to convert and sustain the journals as OA” which will provide enough financial support for the transitioning journals.  They also offer a 5% discount on subscriptions under Subscribe to Open as an incentive.  If subscribers are unwilling to contribute to the overall movement, the project itself will not succeed and the journals will have to revert to traditional subscription models to sustain them as they rely on full participation for the OA movement to succeed (Michael, 2019).  The other aforementioned publishers partaking in the Subscribe to Open model are also looking to it as an innovative solution to offset the costs of publishing and maintain the transition to OA to:

• Ensure continued access to the OA content.

• Support a rigorous peer review process.

• Provide a sustainable, long-term solution to cover the costs of publishing, producing, hosting, and integrating the journals into the necessary platforms without having to request high APCs from authors.

• Empower institutions to support OA publishing independently of funding support.

• Support OA research mandates, such as cOAlition S (Plan S).

• Assist researchers and institutions in developing countries to obtain access to content normally locked behind a paywall.

With the Subscribe to Open model, libraries are able to optimize the services they offer to not only their patrons by organizing and ensuring optimal access to OA content, but also by allowing publishers to be creative with their options and ensure OA remains sustainable for all.  Librarians are able to lead the charge by not only supporting options like Subscribe to Open, but by vetting the OA research being produced with those they support in this manner.  This ensures credible research is shared openly and endorsed by institutions. 


Based on this, librarians and publishers working together to collaborate on sustainable OA models and push the movement forward is of the utmost importance.  It not only supports the continuous increase in demand for accessible digital resources, but ensures quality OA research is being added to the overall body of knowledge in the age of COVID-19.  As part of the larger academic community, these groups will need to continually collaborate and push for these sustainable OA models to change the movement.  This will ensure larger publishers will have to provide more affordable OA APC and hybrid options as well as keep parties accountable for ensuring proper vetting and rigorous review processes are maintained for OA content.  Only by having an honest conversation about OA and their costs, as well as troubleshooting the difficulties of implementation of OA resources, will the OA movement be able to truly do what it was meant to do, by making digital research content more freely accessible to all. 


Brainard, J.  (2021).  A new mandate highlights costs, benefits of making all scientific articles free to read.  Retrieved from www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/01/new-mandate-highlights-costs-benefits-making-all-scientific-articles-free-read

Business Wire.  (2021).  Wiley Announces the Acquisition of Hindawi.  Retrieved from www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210105005201/en/Wiley-Announces-the-Acquisition-of-Hindawi. 

Bulock, C., Hosburgh, N., Mann, S.  (2015).  OA in the Library Collection: The Challenges of Identifying and Maintaining Open Access Resources, The Serials Librarian, 68:1-4, 79-86, DOI: 10.1080/0361526X.2015.1023690

Durrani, Jamie.  (2021).  Elsevier Flips 160 Journals to Open Access.  Retrieved from www.chemistryworld.com/news/elsevier-flips-160-journals-to-open-access/4013038.article.

Enago Academy.  N.d.  “Publish and Read” Gains Momentum: Projekt DEAL Signs Agreement With Springer Nature.  Retrieved from www.enago.com/academy/projekt-deal-signs-agreement-with-springer-nature/

Hinchliffe, L. J.  (2020).  Subscribe to Open: A Mutual Assurance Approach to Open Access.  Retrieved from https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2020/03/09/subscribetoopen/.

Hinchliffe, L. J.  (2019).  Transformative Agreements: A Primer.  Retrieved from https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2019/04/23/transformative-agreements/.

IGI Global.  (2021).  IGI Global Converts 30 Journals to Full Gold Open Access (OA).  Retrieved from www.igi-global.com/newsroom/archive/igi-global-converts-journals-full/4687/.

IGI Global.  (2018, November 21).  Sustainable Open Access Approaches: Benefits for Researchers, Librarians, and Publishers [Video].  https://youtu.be/QJxrB3divyk

Michael, A.  (2019).  Subscribe to Open: Annual Reviews’ Take on Open Access.  Retrieved from https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2019/04/02/subscribe-to-open/. 

Projekt DEAL (2020).  Springer Nature Contract.  Retrieved from https://www.projekt-deal.de/springer-nature-contract/

Seltzer, R.  (2020).  Open Access Comes to Selective Journal.  Retrieved from www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/11/24/nature-add-open-access-publishing-option-2021.

Tennant, J. P., Waldner, F., Jacques, D. C., Masuzzo, P., Collister, L. B., & Hartgerink, C. H. J.  (2016).  The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review.  F1000Research, 5, 632.  http://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.8460.3

Recommended Readings

If you are interested in discussing these topics or collaborating on new initiatives and OA models, contact IGI Global at <mailto: [email protected]>.  Additionally, view a sample of IGI Global’s recently converted full Gold OA journals as well as our hybrid OA content, which can be integrated into your discovery systems and shared with your patrons accordingly. 

Chen, Z., Jiao, J., & Hu, K.  (2021).  Formative Assessment as an Online Instruction Intervention: Student Engagement, Outcomes, and Perceptions. International Journal of Distance Education Technologies (IJDET), 19(1), 50-65.  doi:10.4018/IJDET.20210101.oa1

Doyle, A., Hynes, W., & Purcell, S. M.  (2021).  Building Resilient, Smart Communities in a Post-COVID Era: Insights From Ireland.  International Journal of E-Planning Research (IJEPR), 10(2), 18-26.  doi:10.4018/IJEPR.20210401.oa2

Inyang, O. G.  (2022).  Mentoring: A Tool for Successful Collaboration for Library and Information Science (LIS) Educators. International Journal of Library and Information Services (IJLIS), 11(1), 1-12.  doi:10.4018/IJLIS.20220101.oa1

Scassa, T.  (2021).  COVID-19 Contact Tracing: From Local to Global and Back Again.  International Journal of E-Planning Research (IJEPR), 10(2), 45-58.  doi:10.4018/IJEPR.20210401.oa4

Tikam, M.  (2018).  Connection, Collaboration, and Community: Creative Commons.  International Journal of Library and Information Services (IJLIS), 7(1), 30-43.  doi:10.4018/IJLIS.2018010103

Zhao, H., Ahn, M. J., & Manoharan, A. P.  (2021).  E-Government, Corruption Reduction and the Role of Culture: A Study Based on Panel Data of 57 Countries. International Journal of E-Planning Research (IJEPR), 10(3), 86-104.  doi:10.4018/IJEPR.20210701.oa6

Interested in viewing and integrating all IGI Global OA content into your discovery services, including our 32 full Gold OA journals?  Visit https://bit.ly/3aDx8YC.  


1. We are defining a “Read and Publish” model as “an agreement in which the publisher receives payment for reading and payment for publishing bundled into a single contract” and “Publish and Read” model as including payment to the publishing entity solely for the APCs of OA content (Hinchliffe, 2019).


Submit a Comment



Share This